Leistikow: New appreciation for 'Win, Graduate, Do It Right'

Chad Leistikow

“Win, Graduate, Do It Right” didn't seem as hokey on Friday morning as it did last summer.

That’s the mantra now famously coming from the top of the University of Iowa athletics department. Gary Barta has compared the approach to a “three-legged milking stool,” and it is displayed in his Carver-Hawkeye Arena office as a daily reminder.

When Hawkeye fans were asked to complete a Black and Gold survey last summer and rank what was most important to them – winning on the field vs. student-athletes graduating vs. administrators playing by the rules – it was widely mocked.

Given the timing, after a disappointing 7-6 football season, the survey came across a little bit sanctimonious. It felt like, “Hey, even though we didn't beat any of our rivals, keep buying season tickets because we don't break the rules." (Insert thumbs-up emoji.)

When challenged on the substance and timing of the “Win, Graduate, Do It Right” survey, Barta said this in July:

Iowa 18th-year football coach Kirk Ferentz is presented with the 2015 Bobby Dodd Trophy at the recent spring game as national coach of the year. Iowa went 12-2 last season.

"It's not just about winning, even though the most attention that's paid on a daily basis to how we're doing or how a coach is doing, is winning. I accept that. I understand that. And I believe in that. But I also quietly, or boldly I guess in some cases, say, I want a 10 in academics and I want a 10 in doing things the right way. … So it's just a constant reminder to our staff, and to our fans, that we believe it's 10-10-10, and the stool is going to tip over if you don't pay equal attention.”

After Thursday’s incredible circumstances surrounding Mississippi offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil at the NFL Draft and Friday's news that an Alabama assistant coach was resigning over recruiting violations, “Do It Right” carries a little more heft.

Tunsil confessed to media after his tumble down the draft board that he had been given money by a coach while at Ole Miss. Two leaked text-message threads appeared to show Tunsil asking Ole Miss assistant athletics director John Miller for money to pay rent and his mother’s electric bill. Tunsil, who served a seven-game suspension last season for accepting improper benefits (the use of three loaner cars), admitted that the text messages were real and that his social-media accounts were hacked.

Even though he’s beaten Alabama each of the past two years, I wouldn’t want to be Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze going forward.

A man's integrity spans beyond his professional success. And while Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz isn’t perfect – no one is – the nation’s second-longest-tenured coach (by a few days to Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops) has a clean reputation in his 18 years here.

The 2011 rhabdomyolysis episode, in which 13 players were hospitalized following a week of grueling workouts, is probably the darkest stain on Ferentz’s watch. An investigation cleared Iowa’s trainers and coaches of wrongdoing in the rhabdo case. Changes were implemented to ensure it didn’t, or couldn’t, happen again.

Better to be accused of trying to gain an advantage through hard work than by cheating through illegal payment to players.

I can’t say with 100 percent certainty that all 24 athletic programs at Iowa are clean, even though open-records requests for years have revealed only very minor NCAA violations in the department. And I’m not turning a blind eye to the ongoing, serious federal investigation over whether Barta exhibited gender bias in circumstances surrounding the 2014 firing of field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum.

But when it comes to Iowa football, I am confident in saying they do things right. On top of that, the recently released NCAA Academic Progress Rate for 2014-15 showed that football was one of five UI sports programs to post all-time high scores.

All that said, when my fingers are typing 12 to 15 postgame football columns this fall and winter, I won’t be opining about C.J. Beathard’s GPA or Ferentz’s ability to keep accurate phone records.

The "Win" factor is what we care about most in college sports.

But today reminds us that Graduate and Do It Right matter, too.